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  1. #5577
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    Default Budget Day is on Feb 17, short-term handouts unlikely

    Published on Jan 13, 2012





    By Melissa Tan

    Singapore's Budget for the year ahead will be delivered on Feb 17, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said on Thursday.

    The Budget is expected to feature measures to ease business costs and raise productivity, but short-term handouts as the economy slows are unlikely to be on the cards.

    All eyes are on hot-button topics such as foreign worker levies and coping with the manpower shortage in a tight labour market.

    With five weeks to go, members of the public still have time to make suggestions. The ministry has called for ideas on taxes and public spending for Budget 2012. Feedback can be submitted until Feb 5 via its Budget 2012 website at www.singaporebudget.gov.sg


    Photo:
    Singapore's changed skyline with the incorporation of the new Marina Bay Financial Centre on the left and a rejuvenated Clifford Pier.
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  2. #5578
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    Default Mobility in S'pore 'higher than previously thought'


    by Neo Chai Chin
    04:46 AM Jan 13, 2012

    SINGAPORE - Having poor or less-educated fathers does not necessarily mean their sons will fare similarly, according to a study by a Ministry of Finance economist.

    Using the income records of about 39,500 father-son pairs from the Department of Statistics, the study has found inter-generational mobility in incomes and educational attainment to be "moderate to high", and higher than levels in the United States.

    The correlation between measures of fathers' incomes and those of their sons is 0.22 to 0.30, depending on whether annual or monthly incomes were used. The number typically varies between 0 and 1, with a higher value implying lower mobility.

    A 1992 US study found a correlation score of 0.4 and concluded inter-generational mobility there to be "relatively low".

    The Singapore study tried to measure the incomes of fathers and sons as close to the middle of the life cycle as possible: Cohorts of eldest sons born from 1969 to 1978 and their mean employment income in 2008, and their fathers' mean employment incomes between 1996 and 2000.

    Daughters and younger sons were left out, in line with comparable studies to avoid gender or birth-order biases in child investments, and also because daughters' incomes may be complicated by events such as childbirth and marriage.

    Despite recording relatively high levels of mobility, the study by Ministry of Finance economist Yip Chun Seng noted "some evidence, though not strong, of lower mobility among the poor".

    The report found mobility levels here higher than that found in two previous studies here using smaller sample sizes. Titled Intergenerational Income Mobility In Singapore and available on the MOF's website, it cited increased educational opportunities in the 1960s to 1980s as a possible reason for the relative mobility.

  3. #5579
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    Default New life for army camp


    by Hoe Yeen Nie
    04:46 AM Jan 13, 2012

    SINGAPORE - A former colonial army camp will soon get a new lease of life as a hub for contemporary Asian art, with 13 pioneer galleries to be occupying the space unveiled yesterday.

    The Gillman Barracks project is spearheaded by the Economic Development Board (EDB), JTC Corporation and the National Arts Council (NAC), at a relatively lean budget of under S$10 million.

    Gillman Barracks will also have a Centre for Contemporary Art, and will conduct artist residencies, hold public exhibitions and conduct research into art critique.

    The galleries that have signed on include Kaikai Kiki from Japan, and China's Pearl Lam Galleries, which are currently exhibiting at Art Stage Singapore. The only Singapore presence is FOST Gallery, which was established in 2006 and represents works by local and international artists.

    Some galleries have expressed interest in working with Singapore artists and taking them to the global stage. There will be about 20 galleries when Gillman Barracks is fully up and running.

    The NAC hopes the galleries will also grow the appetite for art. Its deputy CEO, Mr Khor Kok Wah, says: "If you look at a programme like the Art Stage, which we strongly support, you can see that there are many people here who may not be collectors. They are here because they are curious and interested. There is something here at Gillman Barracks that will speak to every one of them."

    Adds Dr Eugene Tan, programme director for lifestyle at the EDB: "The best way to educate audiences about art is just by showing them really good art, which is what I think the galleries will bring. We will complement that with activities and outreach programmes that will help explain what all this means to audiences here."

    Gillman Barracks will open in the second quarter of the year.




    PHOTO COURTESY THE SINGAPORE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT BOARD



  4. #5580
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    Default Initiative for better food hygiene


    by Ng Jing Yng
    04:47 AM Jan 13, 2012

    SINGAPORE - To promote better hygiene standards and food handling processes, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has rolled out a documentation process it hopes food caterers will adopt.

    Unveiled at a seminar for caterers yesterday, the Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS) requires all the practices in the catering process to be documented, from food storage and preparation to cooking and delivery.

    This will give supervisors of the process better oversight of operations, which can be extensive due to the wide variety of food being prepared simultaneously.

    The voluntary initiative comes in light of food-poisoning incidents caused by caterers, while the number of food catering companies has grown over the years. There were 11 cases between January and November last year, and 11 cases in 2010, according to the NEA.

    It noted that cross-contamination is recognised by food safety experts worldwide to be one of the primary causes of food poisoning.

    Steps to be taken under the FSMS include colour-coding chopping boards and providing evidence of records pertaining to food storage and preparation.

    "As each type of raw food ingredient contains its own hazards, a clearly documented process will better enable supervisors to do more comprehensive audits to ensure that proper practices are carried out at each preparation station each time," said the NEA.

    Association of Catering Professionals President James Wong welcomed the initiative. "The investment of resources in sustaining a proper food safety management system will ultimately benefit businesses by increasing consumers' confidence," he said.

    "Customers today are becoming more discerning, and with food poisoning incidents capturing media and public attention, all caterers will do well to integrate such systems in their day-to-day operations."

    Urging more caterers to implement the FSMS, Mr Tai Ji Choong, the NEA's director for environmental health, said this initiative will help caterers meet customers' expectations of clean and safe food.

    "To facilitate such efforts, NEA is working with the relevant stakeholders to introduce simplified templates that can be easily used by any caterer to introduce FSMS in their operations," he added.
    Last edited by Loh; 01-12-2012 at 09:56 PM.

  5. #5581
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    Default New mall for S'pore shoppers

    By Millet Enriquez | Posted: 12 January 2012 1850 hrs
    SINGAPORE: Residents at Jurong will soon have a retail mall that's more than half the size of ION Orchard right at their doorstep.

    Located at Jurong Gateway, Westgate - a mixed development project is expected to offer international and high street fashion, dining options as well as office space.

    The S$1.5 billion project broke ground on Thursday.

    Jointly developed by CapitaMalls Asia, CapitaMall Trust and CapitaLand, the project is slated to open by end-2014 and it's expected to serve some one million people living and working in the area.

    Lee Yi Shyan, Minister of State for Trade and Industry & National Development, said: "In the next 10-15 years, Jurong will become the largest commercial hub outside the city centre. Along with Tampines Centre, Paya Lebar Central and Kallang Riverside, Jurong will be the regional commercial centre for western Singapore."

    The industrial estate's turnaround will get a further boost when a hotel site under the Government Land Sales Programme's Reserve List is released in May.

    The one-hectare hotel site at the Jurong Town Hall Road is expected to yield over 500 rooms and have 3,150 square metres of commercial space.

    To date, several commercial developments are coming on stream and a residential site in the area was also sold recently.

    And despite the uncertain economic outlook, Westgate's developers are confident about the prospects for retail and office tenancy.

    Lim Beng Chee, CEO of CapitaMalls Asia, said: "By itself, it's a very attractive proposition plus also in terms of the overall cost and ambience, it's going to be a lot better.

    "The combination of the work-play will actually attract a lot of office users to come over to this location."

    CapitaMalls Asia said rents at Westgate mall could hover around S$16 to S$18 per square foot.

    The seven-storey shopping mall will open by the end of next year.

    Design firm Benoy and RSP Architects Planners & Engineers - both consultants for ION Orchard and Jcube - were tapped to work on the development on the 594,000 sq ft mall.

    Westgate will have direct connection to the MRT and bus interchanges.

    - CNA/cc


    Mr Lee Yi Shyan (C) viewing a model of the 'Westgate', located at Jurong Gateway
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    Default Female gymnast makes history by qualifying for Olympics

    Published on Jan 13, 2012



    National gymnast Lim Heem Wei has made history by becoming the first Singaporean gymnast to qualify for the Olympics. -- PHOTO: ZAO BAO


    By May Chen

    National gymnast Lim Heem Wei has made history by becoming the first Singaporean gymnast to qualify for the Olympics.

    The 22-year-old picked up one of 37 spots left at the sport's test event on Thursday in London. She will be one of just two South-east Asian female gymnasts who have earned a ticket to the quadrennial Games.

    Lim, who will be 23 by the time the July 27-Aug 12 Games come round, will compete in the women's individual all-around event.
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  7. #5583
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    Default Heem Wei is first Singapore gymnast to qualify for Olympics

    by Philip Goh Haw Hann
    04:47 AM Jan 14, 2012

    SINGAPORE - A small welcoming party of family and friends greeted gymnast Lim Heem Wei (picture) at Changi Airport last night on her return from London, where the 22-year-old carved her name in the Republic's sporting annals.

    Competing at the Visa International Gymnastics this week, a test event and final qualifier for the London 2012 Olympic Games, Lim clinched one of the spots for the top 30 individual finishers from countries that have not already qualified for the Games.

    This meant that Lim became the first gymnast from Singapore to qualify for the Olympic Games and only one of two from South-east Asia who have confirmed their places in London.


    Vietnam's Phan Thi Ha Thanh qualified by virtue of her bronze medal in the vault at last year's world championships in Tokyo.

    Prior to this, Lim's highest achievement was a silver medal for balance beam at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010. She has also competed at two Asian Games and is a veteran of five SEA Games, from which she has collected seven medals, with three gold in the women's team event.

    Lim told Today: "The Olympics is the only meet missing from my resume, and I'm really glad to have won my place in London."

    And it was special for Lim that her mother Chua Sin Hwee and sisters Heem Lu and Heem Hian were at the O2 Arena to watch her compete.

    Father Daniel Lim was ready with a bear hug when Lim walked out of the arrival gates, and he was delighted with his daughter's achievement.

    "My daughter put in a lot of hard work and dedication to get this far, and I hope this would encourage others to follow in her footsteps," he said.

    At the London Games, Lim will be competing in all four individual apparatus as well as the all-around events.


    Gymnast Lim Heem Wei arriving at Changi Airport from London yesterday. Photo by ERNEST CHUA

  8. #5584
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    Default Proposed filing system to raise bar on patents

    by Tan Weizhen
    04:45 AM Jan 16, 2012

    SINGAPORE - Amid the growing number of patents being granted here, the authorities are raising the bar - a move that observers believe would enhance the Republic's reputation as an intellectual property services hub at a time when legal tussles over patents are expected to intensify.

    Under a proposed "positive grant system", only patents which fully meet the full criteria - novelty, inventiveness and applicability to industry - will be granted by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS). Currently, the IPOS uses a "self assessment system" which grants patents even if they do not satisfy all three criteria and there are objections raised in the examination report. Under this system, if any party, such as a competitor, has doubts over the validity of a patent, the onus is on it to challenge the patent via the IPOS or the courts.

    The proposed switch to the new system comes after the IPOS had first issued a public consultation in 2009. Last Monday, it closed its second round of public consultation.

    Responding to Today's queries, an IPOS spokesperson said: "The feedback received from the first consultation had to be studied from the perspective of the many legislative and operational changes required, and then incorporated into the detailed structuring of the proposed changes." The IPOS was unable to give a timeline on when the change would be tabled in Parliament.

    The number of patents registered here - both by companies and individuals - have grown steadily: There were 892 patents filed last year, up from 808 in 2008 and 626 in 2006. The types of patents filed ranged from areas such as life sciences and technology to renewable energy. Each patent lasts for 20 years here. Between 2008 and 2010, about nine in 10 of all patent applications had fully positive examination reports, according to the IPOS.

    Patents are widely considered to be the most valuable among the other types of IP here, namely copyrights and trademarks.

    IP-related sectors here are estimated to be worth more than S$40 billion as of last year, according to the IPOS.

    IP lawyers told Today that the new system will increase Singapore's competitiveness as a medical, innovation and research and development hub, Keystone Law Corporation director Bryan Tan said that currently, even if a patent is weak, it would be allowed to run its course without opposition.

    He said: "During this time, other inventions that are potentially good would be hampered. The new system would serve as a sieve to ensure that potentially weak patents are not granted in the first place and only strong patents are allowed to dominate."

    Mr Tan added, that under the new system, "inventors would be incentivised to work towards stronger patents". However, he was concerned whether investors would place a higher value on patents granted under the proposed regime, compared to those under the existing system.

    Nanyang Law Corporation lawyer Han Wah Teng said that the IPOS' proposed changes would ease the burden on courts. He said: "The courts will then deal with the more complex cases of infringement rather than the more basic question of validity. The time and resources in courts can then be spent more judicially."

  9. #5585
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    Default S'pore breaks world record for largest AED training session

    By Vimita Mohandas | Posted: 15 January 2012 1755 hrs


    SINGAPORE: Some 5,000 people broke the record on Sunday for the world's largest Automated External Defibrillator (AED) training session.

    The feat though comes, with a serious message - that learning how to use the AED can save lives.

    January 15 marks the second National Life Saving Day in Singapore.

    Joining in the effort to raise awareness was Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who also tried his hand at using the AED.

    Each year, some 1,400 people collapse out-of-hospital in Singapore. But only about 20 per cent receive CPR within the first few minutes of collapse.

    Most also do not get the AED used on them in those vital first few minutes.

    Studies show that the use of CPR and the AED can increase survival rates of cardiac arrest patients by more than 50 per cent.

    The event was organised by the Singapore Heart Foundation, the National Resuscitation Council and supporting partners like the Institute of Technical Education, Nanyang Polytechnic, People's Association and Singapore Sports Council.

    -CNA/ac
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    Default SGX takes China Sky to court

    11:40 AM Jan 16, 2012

    SINGAPORE - Singapore Exchange (SGX), where 40 per cent of listed firms are based outside the city state, is going to court to enforce its listing rules for the first time after a Chinese company ignored a deadline to appoint a special auditor.

    The exchange sued China Sky Chemical Fibre and four of its Chinese directors on Jan 6 to compel the Quanzhou City, Fujian-based company to have a special auditor investigate "interested party transactions", a failed land acquisition and certain costs. A closed hearing is scheduled today.

    "This is the first time that a company has been so defiant," said Associate Professor Lan Luh Luh at the National University of Singapore's business school. "They're testing the will and limits of the SGX. All eyes are on SGX to see the extent of its enforcement."

    Singapore investors have pressed for tougher rules as accounting scandals have wiped out the market values of China-based firms from New York to Hong Kong, including Sino-Forest and FerroChina. Singapore Exchange, South-east Asia's biggest bourse by the value of shares traded, accused China Sky of "flagrant disregard" of its directive.

    China Sky, in minutes of a Dec 24 meeting in Singapore between its chief executive officer Huang Zhong Xuan and Lawrence Wong from the bourse, submitted to the exchange that some of its demands "were extremely unreasonable". China Sky released the minutes of the meeting in a statement to the Singapore Exchange.

    "Huang told them that the company's position was similar to that of a bullied child," according to the minutes.

    A spokeswoman for the Singapore Exchange declined to comment because the issue is before the courts. China Sky's lawyer Leonard Chia did not provide a comment in response to two emails or three calls.

    Trading in China Sky shares has been suspended since Nov 17, a day after the exchange first ordered the company to appoint the special auditor. The shares had tumbled 96 per cent from their peak of S$2.74 in October 2007.

    The watchdog and China Sky have issued 25 regulatory filings since the Nov 16 directive. All three independent directors at the nylon fiber maker quit on Jan 5, citing non- compliance with the exchange's order.

    There have been no further statements since Singapore Exchange started legal proceedings on Jan 6.

    "Issuers must comply with the listing rules in accordance with the spirit, intention and purpose by looking beyond form to substance," Ms Lorraine Chay, vice-president of the exchange's issuer regulation unit, said in a 640-page court filing. The exchange is seeking a court order for China Sky to follow its directive and get its approval for board hires.

    Refusing to heed a court order would be in contempt of court, which carries a jail term, a fine or both. No maximum penalty has been specified under Singapore's constitution.

    Er Kwong Wah, Lai Seng Kwoon and Yeap Wai Kong, the three Singaporean independent directors who quit on Jan 5, declined to comment on China Sky's dispute with the exchange, saying it was "inappropriate".

    In March, a Singapore court sentenced Peter Madhavan, a former independent director at Singapore-based freight forwarder Airocean Group, to four months in prison for his role in issuing a misleading regulatory filing. He was the first independent director to be jailed.

    Chinese firms listed on overseas exchanges including North America and Hong Kong have come under increased scrutiny from regulators and investors. In Singapore, at least 20 Chinese firms on the city's S$775.8-billion stock market have been suspended or ordered to delist since 2008.

    "The company's financial statements have been audited by a Big Four accounting firm and the company has been receiving a clean bill of health since IPO to date," China Sky's lawyer Chia said in a Dec 8 letter to the exchange, according to court filings. "The directive was issued with no apparent regard for the various explanations and clarifications painstakingly provided to you."

    The next day, the Chinese firm sent a letter to SGX's Ms Chay saying while there've been "inadvertent disclosure lapses, it is never the intention of the company to hide or deliberately misinform the investing public".

    China Sky had devoted substantial time and resources to answer the regulator's queries, which has been "most disruptive" to its operations and distracted it in "this difficult time," the company said in the letter signed by Mr Huang, its CEO and largest shareholder with a 37.8-per-cent stake.

    Guoco Group, the second-largest investor in China Sky with a 10.3-per-cent stake, "strongly urges the board to speedily resolve and to comply" with the exchange's directive, said a Guoco spokeswoman.

    "China Sky and its directors should act promptly to comply with their listing obligations in the interests of all shareholders," said the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the capital markets regulator with oversight of the exchange.

    "It clearly indicates that the Singapore Exchange is prepared to do what is within its powers to make companies comply," said lawyer Lock Yin Mei, who advises on initial public offerings at London-based law firm Allen & Overy's Singapore office. "Listed companies should take heed."

  11. #5587
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    Default Singapore will help citizens if they're detained wrongfully overseas: Shanmugam

    09:45 PM Jan 15, 2012

    SINGAPORE - Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said Singapore will work with authorities overseas, to help Singaporeans when they are detained wrongfully.

    He added that "even if they've been otherwise detained", Singapore will consider rendering consular assistance, if necessary. But he noted that "it's very seldom that authorities overseas will, in the first place, agree that people have been detained wrongfully."

    Mr Shanmugam was speaking on the sidelines of a community event.

    He was responding to a reporter's question on the role of the Singapore consulate and embassy, in helping Singaporeans who are detained wrongfully overseas.

    Mr Shanmugam said if someone commits an offence overseas, he will be tried according to that country's due process, and there is "not much (Singapore) can do to intervene in the internal processes and the rule of law".

    He pointed out that if a foreigner commits a murder in Singapore, Singaporeans will expect the law here to apply.

    He said: "And if we expect that, then likewise, when we are abroad, we must follow the rules and laws of the countries that we're in."

    When asked if countries should inform the Foreign Affairs Ministry when Singapore citizens are detained, Mr Shanmugam said that depends on a case by case basis.

    He noted that Singapore does not inform consular authorities on a regular basis.

    "We have the law apply to all, regardless of Singaporeans or foreigners," he said.

    Referring to former Romanian Embassy charge d'affaires, Silviu Ionescu, who was involved in a hit-and-run case in Singapore, Mr Shanmugam said Singaporeans were unhappy that Mr Ionescu had diplomatic immunity and had expected the law to apply.

    But "law in that situation means that he has immunity and he's being prosecuted in Romania", said Mr Shanmugam.

    What the Singapore authorities can do, he said, is to convey its "deep sense of unhappiness of what happened to the Romanian authorities" and "make sure that justice is done according to due process". CHANNEL NEWSASIA

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    Default Art Stage back in Singapore

    By Jessica Yeo | Posted: 14 January 2012 2114 hrs


    SINGAPORE: International arts fair, Art Stage, is back in Singapore for the second time and it claims to be bigger and better.

    Art lovers and connoisseurs from around the world gathered at Marina Bay Sands Convention Hall to take in the sights of Art Stage.

    The arts fair include paintings, performances and installations.

    Organisers and galleries said the event helps to brings Asian art to the world.

    Lorenzo Rudolf, Fair Director and CEO of Art Stage, said: "It's like an instant museum, I don't see any place in the world where you have in such a short time, an overview on what is going on in Asia, where you in see in every Asian country the creativity of today.

    "I think it's important to show how strong Asia is. It makes no sense to make it a copy of a Western fair. People don't travel to Asia to see the West. They travel to Asia to see Asia."

    Emi Eu, Director of the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, said: "It is a very good opportunity to see a lot of artworks, what's happening basically right now in this region, plus around the world.

    "It's not often that we get to travel and go to all these artists studios, so I think it's very good for the galleries but at the same time its good for the public as you don't have to travel to London and New York to see what they are doing."

    Others have also said that art fairs are crucial for the development of the arts scene in Asia.

    Pascal de Sarthe, owner of the de Sarthe Gallery, said: "Art fairs in Asia are new, the art market in Asia is also fairly new. Asia's art scene is growing and Art Stage is one of the events that is going to be crucial for the development and for the growth of the art market in Asia, especially in Southeast Asia."

    Artists saw the fair as an opportunity to etch a deeper footprint in Asia.

    Bernar Venet, an artist, said: "I think its great, people come here and discover some other sides of my work because nobody knows the paintings that I'm exhibiting here, nobody has seen that. What is great is that my works get to be known around here, its a good thing for me."

    The fair featured more than 133 exhibitors from around the world.

    -CNA/ac


    One of the exhibits at the Art Stage fair held at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Hall
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    Default Strong SAF underpins S'pore's peace and security: Tony Tan

    By Karen Ng | Posted: 14 January 2012 2149 hrs



    SINGAPORE: President Tony Tan Keng Yam said a strong Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) underpins the peace and security of the country.

    Dr Tan said Singaporeans must never take peace and stability for granted, in a world where new and more complex challenges have arisen in the security landscape.

    Dr Tan made these points when he addressed 472 officer cadets who were commissioned as officers after completing the Officer Cadet Course. He also reviewed the parade at SAFTI Military Institute.

    The officers completed 38 weeks of rigorous training and honed their combat, planning and leadership skills. They will take on command, instructional or staff appointments in the SAF.

    Dr Tan reminded them of their responsibilities ahead and urged them to lead by example.

    "Your men will watch what you do closely, more so during times when you are undergoing rigorous, strenuous and stressful training together. Uphold high personal standards and discipline, match your words with action, and show care and conviction," said Dr Tan.

    Also present at the parade were Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen, Members of Parliament, senior Ministry of Defence officials and SAF officers, as well as families and friends of the newly-commissioned officers.

    -CNA/ac


    President Tony Tan Keng Yam inspecting the OfficerCadet contingents at the 83rd Officer Cadet Course commissioning parade held at SAFTI Military Institute. (Photo: MINDEF)
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    Default Terror goes back to local roots

    Groups like the JI are turning to fomenting sectarian wars at home, fears former FBI agent and terror expert Ali Soufan


    by Teo Xuanwei
    04:46 AM Jan 16, 2012

    The successful fight against Al Qaeda's rhetoric over the years has seen the terror group, as well as the affiliated regional group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), lose the "hearts and minds campaign", said terror expert Ali Soufan (picture).

    But the former FBI supervisory special agent - best known for coming closest to foiling the 9/11 plot had the CIA given his team crucial information it claimed it did not have - said his greatest fear is of terror groups around the world going back to a trend in the past of instigating hatred domestically between different religions, tribes or sects.

    "I see that terror threats have moved back from the international, and started becoming domestic again," said the author of The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al Qaeda. "What we're seeing around the world is, many terrorist groups and radical groups are going back to the basics, to focus on local recruitment and regional and local issues."

    In Nigeria, for instance, Mr Soufan noted that the Boko Haram group have started emulating what the JI had done in the past, by attacking Christians and hoping the latter would retaliate against Muslims.

    By recording retaliations against Muslims, they are then able to recruit more Muslims to carry out more attacks, resulting in a "snowball effect" and a continuation of war, he said.

    In Indonesia, such tactics have re-emerged too
    . There has been growing buy-in into the Wahhabiyah ideology that promotes a radical interpretation of Islam, and jihadists have linked up with cause-oriented groups such as those opposed to rising "Christianisation" in the country.

    Mr Soufan said: "My fear is that new leadership might come up from the JI and they will do exactly what they did before, in trying to create sectarian war between the Christians and Muslims, especially in Indonesia, something similar to what Boko Haram is doing in Nigeria."


    INSTABILITY SPILLS OVER

    If these JI elements successfully create an impression of Muslims being under attack, this could fuel recruitment or fund-raising in other countries.

    He noted: "In the past, for example, you have seen Singaporeans going to operate in Indonesia. We had Singaporeans who ran training camps in the Philippines, so that thing might come back ... I will be very worried when I start seeing attacks on Christian villages or churches and so forth, because that means that is the strategy for these terrorist groups."

    Pointing to other similar trends around the world, such as the sectarian war between the Sunnis and the Shias, as well as the "stressful relationship" Iran has with Gulf states, Mr Soufan said such domestic fights can spill over and affect regions.

    "These are not international terrorism per se, but they are regional incubators that can create significant instability and affect regional stability in these areas around the world."

    This is also worrying when one notes that terrorism is "not only a tool in the hands among non-state actors, but also it is a tool in the hands of some states in order to exert their influence on domestic and regional politics".


    NO COOKIE CUTTER STRATEGIES

    Asked for his assessment of terror threats in South-east Asia today, Mr Soufan said the JI has "lost a lot" over the years.

    "Many of their operatives are either killed or in jail, they lost much of the support that they had, and people just look at them as if they are crazy or irrelevant," he said, adding that governments are doing better because they are more aware of how to deal with terrorism than they did before.

    He also noted that Indonesia has taken "a step on the right path" by also starting rehabilitation programmes for captured radicals and terrorists as part of its counter-terrorism strategy. As to his assessment of their effectiveness, he said: "You have to give it time ... To do rehabilitation, the programme has many components, you can't just have only the religious components to it, you have the psychological, family, cultural components. They just started doing that and the situation in Indonesia is a little different than the situation in Singapore."

    In a commentary he wrote for The Wall Street Journal, which was republished in Today on Jan 4, Mr Soufan had lauded Singapore's counter-terror success - in particular its rehabilitation programmes which it views as an "important weapon" in the effort - as a model for the world to study.

    Asked yesterday what the Republic could do better, though, he preferred to defer the question to those who are leading the fight here, saying: "They have been very successful in isolating the chaos in the region and keeping Singapore a mecca of stability."

    He does not believe in adopting a cookie-cutter approach. "I don't think if I have a successful programme in New York, I should come here and preach about that programme. Because what works over there possibly might not work here and vice versa. We have to keep our assessments within the legal, political, and cultural framework of the different societies," he said.

    On lone wolves
    by Teo Xuanwei

    Even as sniffing out "lone wolf terrorists" is a tougher task than tracking down traditional terrorists, the good thing is they are incapable of causing as much havoc, said Mr Ali Soufan.

    "His training is on the Internet and his capabilities are not going to be as lethal - I'm not saying they are not dangerous, but they are not going to be as lethal as the capabilities of people who went to training camps, visited Afghanistan, got the necessary experience to conduct and carry out a terrorist attack."

    Mr Soufan said that, while it is "tougher to keep track" of radicalisation and the hatching of plans in the virtual world, intelligence and security agencies have done a good job in monitoring efforts.


    Al Qaeda has lost ability to carry out major attacks

    by Teo Xuanwei

    The death of Osama bin Laden dealt a "lethal hit" to Al Qaeda in that the terror group has become much more fragmented and weakened under the leadership of Ayman Al Zawahiri (picture), said Mr Ali Soufan.

    Noting that Al Zawahiri, being an Egyptian, lacked the respect among Arab fighters in Al Qaeda, Mr Soufan said the organisation has become "increasingly irrelevant".

    For instance, some components of the group operating on the Algerian frontiers have tribal reasons for their anger. "The slogan of bin Laden's Al Qaeda: Expel the infidels from the Arabian peninsula, is not even part of their vocabulary."

    Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula is busy " trying to be part of the political fabric of the Yemeni opposition in southern Yemen, "so their slogan now is very different and their way of operating is different from that when bin Laden was there".

    "Al Qaeda in Iraq, their main focus is to create a sectarian war between the Sunni and Shia ... So, you have different Al Qaedas.

    While this does not mean Al Qaeda has become a "paper tiger", he said: "If Ayman Al Zawahiri was able to conduct a terror plot, he would do it ... However, I think they lost the hearts and minds campaign. Operationally, they lost the capability to transfer funds, move operatives around the world, conduct terror attacks like they used to conduct before. And I think the Arab Spring made many of the people who possibly would have joined Al Qaeda not to join international terrorist groups and rather focus on affairs in their own country."


    How do you rate Singapore's preparedness against terror attacks?

    by Teo Xuanwei

    I think it is first tier. They invest in these kinds of things, they think about it, even though it is sometimes very easy to say, 'well, nothing happens, nothing is happening, so why should I be thinking about these kinds of things?'. But I have to give it to Singaporean intelligence and law enforcement, they definitely think in the right way.

    You have the hard national security stance, but also you have incorporated in it all the soft sciences that is needed in order to strengthen the society and defeat the bad guys. The bad guys are also fighting you with ideas and you have something here that is phenomenal. You have a melting pot society, you have nationalism that is based on philosophy, not based on bloodline.

    And you used all these things as a strength in the ideology against the bad guys. The bad guys are saying 'people cannot live together'. You are showing that 'no, we can live together'. And all of us, Chinese, Malay, Indians, Muslims, Buddhists, whatever, all of us are in this fight against the bad guys, who believe that multi-culturalism does not work.




    Photo by OOI BOON KEONG

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    Default Droughts a bigger worry than flash floods: Vivian

    Features to alleviate flooding woes should store water too, he says

    Published on Jan 16, 2012


    Droughts are more worrying than flash floods, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said on Sunday, as Singapore approaches the dry spell of the North-east Monsoon next month. -- ST PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW


    By Kezia Toh

    Droughts are more worrying than flash floods, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said on Sunday, as Singapore approaches the dry spell of the North-east Monsoon next month.

    Changing weather patterns mean that there is a greater likelihood of intense rain - as well as dry spells, he said.

    'What is happening to the weather now is greater variability, there are days with very intense rain, and those days of intense rains may be increasing,' said Dr Balakrishnan. 'But it is equally possible, and indeed likely, that there will also be dry spells.'

    He cited a drought in the early part of 2010 which affected Johor Baru in neighbouring Malaysia as well as Singapore, which led to a dip in water levels in reservoirs here and in Johor. 'Prolonged drought is something that is of greater worry to me, than a flash flood which can be resolved in 15 minutes to half an hour,' he said.
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    Default Foreign firms spent big in Singapore last year

    Investments hit near record $13.7b and will help create more than 20,000 new skilled jobs

    Published on Jan 18, 2012

    By Magdalen Ng


    Investments poured in at near record levels last year despite a fragile global economy, setting the country up for an additional 20,000 or so new skilled jobs in coming years.

    Foreign spending on fixed assets such as factories and machinery hit $13.7 billion, at the top end of the Economic Development Board's (EDB) forecast of $12 billion to $14 billion.

    This number would have been a record if figures from 2007 and 2008, when huge petrochemical cracker projects were secured, were excluded, said the EDB on Tuesday in its annual review.

    American companies accounted for 36.8 per cent of the investment commitments, with 15.5 per cent from Europe.

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    Default Bonus or no bonus, we have looked after S'poreans' interests: PM Lee


    by Teo Xuanwei
    04:46 AM Jan 18, 2012

    SINGAPORE - While the issue of ministerial salaries has been a lightning rod for public anger at several General Elections, it was - in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's assessment - during the most recent GE that things "came to a head".

    But the ruling party decided against dealing with the subject there and then because "these are not issues easily settled in the heat of the campaign", Mr Lee said in Parliament yesterday.

    "We certainly do not want an auction to the lowest bidder. People saying 'I will serve for less', and the other person says 'I'll serve for even less'. And you think you choose the cheapest one, you get the most value for money," Mr Lee said.

    Mr Lee revealed that he once also had concerns over pay hikes for public servants.

    In the 1980s while he was with the Singapore Armed Forces and discussing with then-Defence Minister Goh Chok Tong a proposal for a 20- to 25-per-cent increase of officers' salaries, he had argued against it. "I thought it was too much, too fast," he said. "There was no need to be so generous and perhaps to change the spirit of the service."

    His perspective was to change over the years: Mr Lee recalled watching then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1985 spending three hours in Parliament defending the policy of paying realistic wages to ministers against Opposition members such as Mr J B Jeyaretnam and Mr Chiam See Tong. Still, the matter wasn't settled permanently, he noted.

    The turning point came when he was Deputy Prime Minister in the early 1990s and was overseeing the Public Service Division. Then, the Civil Service had come up with a proposal to revise salaries upwards by 5 or 10 per cent to stem the departures of young officers to the private sector.

    He said: "We have a serious problem, we have to move drastically on pay, we have to move drastically on promotions." Convinced that a major revision was needed, the decision was made to set a benchmark so that wages in the public sector would not continually lag behind the private sector. Mr Lee noted that, had the revision not taken place, "we would not have the Civil Service we have today".

    Still, continuing revisions are necessary and, "in the same way, ministerial pay also has to remain competitive and remain realistic as circumstances change".

    Adding that the Government will do its best to make the latest recommendations work, he said: "I hope the public will accept the committee's proposals as fair and right for the future."

    Over the years, the Government has been explaining its stance on pay for political office holders. But it has remained an issue for many Singaporeans due to what, in principle, were "reasonable concerns", Mr Lee acknowledged.

    Some were against the principle of pegging ministers' pays to top earners in the private sector, or have reservations about technical issues such as the formula or the group of corporate executives compared against. Others "just feel that the salaries are just too high, whatever it is", or that ministers had come up with the framework for setting their own salaries, said Mr Lee.

    Then there are those who are concerned that highly-paid political leaders would lose the ethos of caring for Singaporeans first as their main motivation and priority, and thus lose touch with the problems average-income families have.

    But he also noted: "PAP's track record of government can stand up to scrutiny. Bonus or no bonus, year-in year-out, we have looked after the interests of all Singaporeans, especially the poor, which is how we have got here today."

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